As promised, Part II of the RRR will focus primarily on those grey areas between the clunkers of Part I and the successes to be chronicled in the finale. Well, as it turns out, there are a few more middle-grounders than can comfortably fit in one piece; as such, part IIA will set the stage, and Part IIB will conclude the play by gradually climbing from the decent to the just-this-side-of-great to transition to Part III proper. For now, though, Part IIA!
You Conduit! Sort of: Funeral for a Friend - Conduit
Picking up roundabouts where last week’s stylistic thread was left dangling, Funeral for a Friend’s sixth full-length Conduit is yet another post-hardcore (eh, ...ish) release that finds an aging band revealing admirable and ample signs of vitality. And, to its credit, Conduit fares a bit better than Silverstein’s Shift, although for a somewhat surprising reason: Funeral for a Friend is heavy on this album. Pretty relentlessly so. Sure, the Welsh quintet isn’t suddenly Pig Destroyer or Meshuggah, but please, let's be reasonable. “Spine” scorches right out of the gate, and songs like “The Distance,” “Grey,” and the title track keep the intensity level elevated—sometimes at the sacrifice of melody. For the most part, the energy is effective, and the fact that 11 tracks clock in at under an hour definitely counts in the record’s favor. However, even within that limited scope, Conduit never manages to shake its general feeling of sameness—even if that sameness happens to be excitingly kinetic. Funeral’s always been most effective when blending its metallic tendencies with a more melodic bent. While the latter has been leaned on more heavily in recent years—even 2011’s return-to-form Welcome Home Armageddon—and attracted a lot of criticism from longtime fans (who, strangely enough, seem to always be the biggest complainers), here the band’s move in the opposite feels slightly too calculated to fully work. It’s no surprise, then, that while a chugger like “Grey” grows a bit tiresome after a few listens, songs like “Best Friends and Hospital Beds” and “Sun-Less,” which manage to pack their punches with more than just crisp powerchords and distorted riffs, end up leaving more pleasantly lasting impressions.
Conduit is available for $9.99 from national retailer Best Buy.
Softer Blows: Puscifer - Donkey Punch the Night
Puscifer’s Donkey Punch the Night EP also isn’t bad, per se, but it does alarmingly encapsulate all the critiques routinely volleyed at Maynard James Keenan’s latest (and, from the look of things, soon-to-be most prolific) musical endeavor: It’s overly reliant on pitch correction specifically (on the tongue-in-cheek and thankfully/surprisingly not-a-trainwreck cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and self-indulgent studio trickery in general. The former is distressing mainly in that Keenan’s voice is strong enough that any tweaking, slight as it may be, feels superfluous. The latter issue, meanwhile, is a problem particularly the remix overstuffed back-half, which is the sort of material valuable to diehard completists and, possibly, audiophiles, but just energy-sapping for anyone else. Nonetheless, there are still some great songwriting chops here, as evidenced by original “Breathe,” not to (re)mention the fact that the “Rhapsody,” though adding nothing truly new to the song (which sets it apart from the current best-cover champion), doesn’t utterly explode in the band’s face. But still, as a whole, for a seven-track work to feel this cumbersome (it’s difficult to express just how little Donkey Punch is helped by its decision to double up on three of its own songs in overlong, remixed form) and oddly aloof (in that, tending back towards the overly jokey style of the band’s earlier material) is disheartening enough. That it comes between Puscifer’s creative high water mark Conditions of My Parole and the (ever-)swirling rumors of a reunion disc from Tool (which, sure, vary from day to day) makes this Punch particularly painful.
Donkey Punch the Night is available for $7.99 from local merchant The Sound Garden in Fells Point--but keep an eye out, as it may be filed under Tool.
Furry and Forlorn: Mark Kozelek - Like Rats
Meanwhile, on the sparse, acoustic opposite end of the spectrum from both Funeral’s uptempo intensity and Puscifer’s electronic-laden explosions sits Mark Kozelek, ace guitar player and mumbling, pathos-heavy lyricist. His latest, Like Rats, is another curiosity, a covers album spanning acts ranging from Danzig to Ted Nugent to Genesis to Sonny and Cher, and inflecting them all with his signature starkness and deceptively nuanced simplicity. But something about the collection feels off, and it’s unclear where the fault lies. Kozelek is no stranger to cover albums—indeed, his What’s Next to the Moon and Sun Kil Moon’s Tiny Cities made their missions out of bringing his introspective, less-is-more approach to disc’s worth of AC/DC(!) and Modest Mouse covers, respectively. Maybe it’s the lack of a solid, album-uniting bulwark like that keeping Like Rats from being transcendental. Or maybe it’s how sprawling the album is (16 tracks, though it, too, doubles down on three). Or that Kozelek has become so increasingly prolific that less time and thought goes into constructing these covers than that which made his past greats so great. Or that the shtick of Kozelek singing a song like “I Killed Mommy” only works so long before wears a little thin (one can make excuses all day about how it’s more than that, how it’s a commentary on the melancholy and/or madness lurking beneath the song’s sneer; one might even have a point. But there’s also a point where the well dries up). Or that the originals just weren’t a good fit this time out. Who knows? Maybe it’s all these things. Whatever the case, the end result is a rare thing in the ever-growing Kozelek katalogue: an album with a handful of skippable songs.
Next time: We pick up where Mark left us off by focusing on several solo acts and their varied returns.